Multi-level Theories of
John D. Teasdale
MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK
Multi-level theories of cognition and emotion recognize qualitatively distinct kinds, or “levels”, of information and representation. Within such theories, representations of a given event or topic at different levels of information can have quite different functional relationships to emotion.
Multi-level theories suggest that, in attempting to understand the emotional effects of events, it is helpful to consider separately the contributions from different kinds of information, and their interactions, rather than to lump them all together in some general concept of “cognition”.
There are many potential advantages to such multi-level approaches. They immediately allow us to side-step some of the unhelpful aspects of the ZajoncLazarus debate on the primacy of affect vs. the primacy of cognition in the generation of emotion. As Leventhal & Scherer (1987) have pointed out, much of this argument actually boiled down to a semantic controversy about whether the word “cognition” could be applied to more “sensory-perceptual” aspects of experience, or whether it should be restricted to more consciously accessible “appraisals”. Multi-level theories treat both appraisals and perceptual features simply as information at different levels of abstraction. In this way, these theories allows us to focus clearly on the central tasks of characterizing those levels, and their relationship to emotion, rather than on arguing about the boundary conditions for the use of the term “cognition”.
Dissociations in cognition-emotion relationships are not uncommon. For